It doesn’t happen every day that someone tells me it is “ok” not to be a futurist, especially if that person is a Web celebrity. It happened to me today when Chris Brogan responded to a comment I wrote on his blog post about Google Lattitude (It felt a bit like a father tapping a child on the shoulder assuring him it’s ok ;-) ). My comment to him comes from a post I wrote yesterday called “Just because Google can track your friends doesn’t make it valuable”. Chris’s reaction got me thinking about my own views about technology.
Chris is right of course. I’m not qualified to be a futurist. I’m not even qualified to be an early adopter. I’m not a breaking news blogger, but write from personal experience and observations. My strengths are within different fields ranging from technology to the human factor. I understand technology, I work for a great startup right now, and I’ve spent a lot of my working life in what I call the “first use” of technology.
Based upon my own experiences, I have found that first use of new technology is always about 2 things: the human factor and the business model. Technology needs to work but it’s impact is often less important than the attention it gets from us geeks. Technology needs to work for its user, not the other way around. It needs to solve a problem, enable something, but mostly, it needs to be dead-simple (a criteria that is hardly ever met when a new service is launched). These views disqualify me from being an early adopter because I do not get overly excited over the technology itself. I get excited over the use of that technology in real life.
The business model is equally important. I care about User-Centric business models. The choice of a business model affects the value a user receives from a service. We tend to underestimate that importance. The best business models are those that create user value and monetize directly on that value. Why? Because it forces you to keep providing user value in order to guarantee revenue. The commonly used free advertisement based business model is an example where this is not the case (most of the times). In that business model the network value is more important than user value. As a result it forces you to focus on growth and customer lock-in, instead of user value and user freedom. Big difference imo.
Being a futurist is different. That is the area where you are allowed to dream. There isn’t a right or wrong, there is just imagination. Or as Chris puts it:
“One more thing: not everyone’s a futurist, and that’s okay. I make my money by figuring out the jump move instead of the obvious here and now.”
I am a dreamer, in many ways, but I think I disqualify from being a good futurist. Main reason for this is that I tend to look for questions instead of answers. I imagine all kinds of possibilities but I find that I am more fascinated by the questions that these future predictions provide. It is precisely for this reason I write.
Writing helps me understand the way things work. It isn’t about being right or wrong. To me it is more of an exploration. It helps me to write down my thoughts and shape them as people start reacting and responding. I hope that it makes people think. But I also feel that it will help me learn new things too. If you want to know what gets me excited then you can read about the Zen of my blogging.
I might sound negative about new technology and question it’s value. But for me these questions are what new technology should be about. I do not care about the technology itself. I care about its First Use. About the value it creates in our daily lives. The rest is just play.